As part of ongoing initiatives to strengthen its commitment to inclusion, diversity and equity, Smith College announced a number of steps it is taking to reduce the likelihood of bias-related incidents. Changes the college is making in relation to campus safety were spurred by an incident this summer involving an employee and a student of color that, as Smith President Kathleen McCartney has written, “caused us to reassess and recommit to the work Smith needs to do to be the community we aspire to be.”
The college has taken actions in three broad areas:
- policing policies and training
- employee training
- cross-campus education focused on culture change
The changes in policing policy are informed in part by the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU attorney Carl Takei said in a statement released today: “The ACLU is pleased Smith College was receptive to many of our recommendations and is adopting new policies that will help address racial bias and profiling.” Takei characterized the college’s actions as “a crucial step in the right direction.”
Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges share a campus police department. Together, they have revised policies that guide police dispatchers’ and officers’ responses to suspicious activity calls, and strengthened policies that prohibit bias-based profiling, to achieve the following goals:
- Reaffirm that dispatchers must gather sufficient information from callers to ensure that police response — if warranted — is based on a report of individuals’ behaviors versus appearances.
- Ensure that all enforcement actions are based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause, as supported by articulable facts, circumstances and conclusions.
- Expand mechanisms for addressing any aspect of an encounter that may suggest the possibility of bias-based profiling.
- Require annual training on the prevention of bias-based profiling.
To ensure that these policies are widely understood and effective, the college is reissuing them in conjunction with mandatory training for all campus police employees. In addition, employees who work in Smith’s dining and facilities departments are receiving clarified guidance on their role in fostering Smith’s welcoming community while keeping the campus safe. This guidance emphasizes respectful dialogue — rather than escalation to police — when observing behaviors that do not rise to the level of a safety threat.
Employee training and support
Over the last three months, more than 80 percent of college employees (staff and faculty) have successfully completed intensive online anti-bias training through the EverFi platform. In addition, many employees have received in-person trainings on such topics as identity and inclusion, identifying and responding to bias and microaggressions, and strategies for engaging in respectful conversations about race, power and privilege.
Education and culture change
In addition to changing its policies and training, Smith has partnered with The Collaborations Group, a leadership development and culture change firm led by diverse trainers and facilitators, to help further its commitments to inclusion, diversity and equity. A key focus of their work will be the development of a daylong immersive learning conference, to be held April 10. All classes, meetings and events will be canceled so that every member of the community can participate. The conference is designed to deepen community members’ understanding of race, class, gender, disability and privilege. The Collaborations Group consultants will also support development of a campuswide strategic plan for inclusion, diversity and equity.